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'Dead' A-Bomb Hits U.S. Town, 1958/03/13

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'Dead' A-Bomb Hits U.S. Town, 1958/03/13

Published 1958

(1) B-47 a-bomb fell on house in SC, first such accident (2) Los Angeles - automatic control of machine tool production line, using punched tape, developed by Hughes Aircraft Company (partial newsreel).

Production Company Universal Studios
Audio/Visual sound, b&w


Reviewer: Htos1 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 30, 2012
Subject: History
That explosion was just the trigger charge!
Reviewer: ADDIE - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 16, 2010
Subject: That por Little House
This is an interesting clip, but don't these things happen, kind of, a lot?

What I would like to know is how badly those 6 people were injured and if the home owner was ever reimbured. lol
Reviewer: Popeye Doyle - favoritefavoritefavorite - February 9, 2010
Subject: Ah, progress!
An interesting display of belief in progress no matter what happens.
Reviewer: JohnnyTopQuark - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 9, 2010
Subject: No Protective Gear
Plutonium-238 only emits alpha radiation (and VERY small amounts of gamma/neutron) which is virtually harmless to humans. Minimal shielding is required, if any.

Same with uranium-235.

The one route that may cause significant damage is if a plutonium chemical compound is ingested, allowing the alpha particles to directly radiate internal organs. Because of this, they should have AT LEAST been wearing respirators of some sort; just in case.

Absolutely insane hysteria and mythology has surrounded nuclear weapons since their inception. It is a curious phenomenon--one that I am devoting much time in the near future to investigating (also I want to dispel misconceptions).
Reviewer: techguy - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 25, 2009
Subject: If it had...
fdungan said, "Had it gone off, South Carolina would be uninhabitable even today due to radiation..."
Although it would have been an horrific disaster, actually this statement isn't true. The bomb was of a type with that of the Trinity test. Ground Zero at the Trinity site is safe to visit:
Had it been an H-bomb, the area would have been unsuable for years, perhaps decades; but by this time it would remain only somewhat hazardous, and inhabitable with some precautions. The largest-ever US H-bomb test, at Bikini Atoll, was worst-case from a contamination standpoint; a ground explosion rather than an airburst. Bikini is now inhabitable, though with some hazardous residues that can accumulate in locally-grown foods:
It's easy to get shrill about nuclear hazards, easy (and justifiable) to be suspicious of official proclamations. Radiation and nuclear weapons are no small matter, but even so it's unproductive to engage in hysteria.
Incidentally... the bomb could not have gone "atomic" even if it had been dropped with its core, and it would have been possible to clean up the plutonium. The explosion would undoubtedly have broken it up, but it would not have been too widely dispersed. Removal of a not-unmanageable amount of surface soil in the area would have done the job.
The clip is a nice bit of history, I'm glad it's available here.
Reviewer: thrillbot - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 1, 2009
Subject: Trying to Get in Touch with HistoryTeacher

I'm actually producing a documentary on the Mars Bluff incident for the South Carolina Educational Television Network (The local PBS affiliate).

You mentioned that your uncle was the USAF Attorney. I would love to talk to you and if he's willing, interview him for the film. I can be reached via email at

Matt Burrows
Reviewer: carolinagirl - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 8, 2008
I was two when this happened and visited the site last week while there on vacation to see my family. A man bought the land and put a trailer park on it years and years ago but did not pay taxes. I don't have any idea why he didn't think he needed to, but there are dozens of bare areas where trailers used to be and abandoned electric and water meters amongst the pines. Wish I could upload the photos of it here. The sickest is that the old trailer park sign is still there next to a couple of government sanctioned standard green landmark signs that say "ATOMIC BOMB CRATER". The access road is called "Crater Road" and even sicker is an old bait and tackle shop sign. The shop was called "Leap of Faith Bait and Tackle".

While we drove through the abandoned park, we observed surveyors there, no idea what they are going to do, a museum perhaps? I just remember thinking as I found out about it as a kid as I played with friends who lived in Mars Bluff how lucky we were to be alive.
Reviewer: canmanbuildsuperman - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 10, 2008
Subject: Responses to comments
Just a quick response to the comments below:
zenaris -- Hiroshima and Nagasaki are inhabitable and have many people living there today. You can even visit the place where the atomic bomb went off.
fdungan -- Actually it was an "ordinary atomic bomb" -- it was a Mark 6 plutonium implosion weapon, an improved version of the "Fat Man" bomb that detonated over Nagasaki. Even if it had had its plutonium core inside of it, it would not have detonated in a full nuclear explosion (it would have spread a lot of plutonium around, which would have been bad, but not as bad as a full-blown fission-driven explosion). It was not a thermonuclear weapon. There is no way in which its full explosive power would have left the entire state of South Carolina "uninhabitable." Perhaps you are confusing it with the Tybee bomb, which was a thermonuclear weapon, and was accidentally dropped in Georgia a few months earlier.

In terms of the misleading nature of the clip, the most egregiously inaccurate line is that this was "the first accident of its kind, in history." In fact, a number of accidental droppings and explosive (non-nuclear) detonations of nuclear weapons had occurred over the course of the 1950s. True, the EXACT circumstances of this "accident of its kind" had not occurred, but it's cutting a pretty fine line there, when most people hearing that are going to think that no accidents of dropping nuclear weapons out of bombers had occurred, when in reality all the line means is that no dropping of implosion weapons without their cores over inhabited civilian areas where the explosives then detonated had occurred.

Anyway, an interesting clip.
Reviewer: KenHirsch - favoritefavoritefavorite - August 18, 2006
Subject: Somewhat interesting
Not really much detail on the atomic bomb, but still somewhat interesting.

Contrary to what zenaris says, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not inhabitiable. There are over 1 million residents of Hiroshima and more than 400,000 residents of Nagasaki.
Reviewer: zenaris - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 2, 2006
Subject: "Dead" A-Bomb Hits U.S. Town
An interesting newsreel and event. Maybe it's true that, had the bomb been armed and gone off, South Carolina would be uninhabitable even today - just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still uninhabitable.
Reviewer: fdungan - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 24, 2006
Subject: Thermonuclear Hydrogen Bomb
This was no ordinary atomic bomb. Had it gone off, South Carolina would be uninhabitable even today due to radiation (the half life of radioactive isotopes is measured in thousands of year).

Keep in mind that this was produced during the height of the Cold War. The Air Force did its best to minimize the danger. Neither the press nor the military wanted to alarm the public.

During this era, people in the know read between the lines. Today we tend to view this newsreel as a coverup, but at the time it was produced (the McCarthy era), it was par for the course.
Reviewer: opt17 - favoritefavoritefavorite - May 21, 2005
Subject: nothing to write
nothing to write
Reviewer: HistoryTeacher - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 8, 2005
Subject: An Important Bit of Atomic, South Carolina, and Automatic Manufacturing/Computer Technology
The first bit is about the bombing of Mars Bluff, South Carolina. A B-47 suffered an electrical fault and toggled off a nulcear gravity bomb through the bomb bay doors, severely damaging several homes and injuring several people. My uncle was the government lawyer that defended the US in the ensuing lawsuit, so there is some family folklore to go with this and thus a personal interest. BTW, I suspect that the "TNT" mentioned was newsreel-eese for "an unknown high explosive agent": I suspect that they use more sophisticated stuff in nuclear weapons than TNT, but that is just a hunch. I dont think the device had any nuclear material in it to speak of, and none was ever recovered in any event. It was a "live" weapon, but apparently had its core of plutonium (I assume) removed for the exercise.

The second bit was about one of the first NC (Numericaly Controled) automated manufacturing stations. This generation of early automated milling station used paper tape to store the programming that controls the selection of tools, speeds and feeds, motion of the workpiece and cutter, ect. When I was in the machine tool program at the local tec college years ago, we had a beheamoth like this (only made by GE) gathering dust in the corner. More modern machines using more flexible CNC (Computer Numericaly Controled) systems had long ago replaced it. This is the technology that bridged the gap between the manualy operatied mills, lathes and shapers of 100 years ago and the ultra-automated manufacturing stations of todays factories. Must-have footage in any discussion of modern manufacturing and the early impact of computers on the workplace.
Reviewer: Wilford B. Wolf - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 6, 2005
Subject: We Have Explosive
A pair of fascinating of newsreel clips from 1958. The first one is about an unassembled nuclear bomb that dropped from a bomber and on to a house in South Carolina. One thing that I did not know, but TNT is used to trigger the explosion. This TNT caused a massive explosion and injuries, the narrator stresses there was no radiation. (I'm not so sure about that...) It is still a bit creepy to see all the military personel in suits running around with geiger counters and no protective gear at all.

The second clip has some great early computer footage of a Computer Aided Manufacturing system designed by Hughes Aircraft using paper tape and a keyboard. For anyone interested in computer history, this is an important piece of footage.
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